Fixed election dates in Canada

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In Canada, some Canadian jurisdictions have passed legislation fixing election dates, so that elections occur on a more regular cycle (usually every four years) and the date of a forthcoming election is publicly known. However, the Governor General of Canada, on the advice of the Prime Minister of Canada; the provincial lieutenant governors, on the advice of the relevant premier; and the territorial commissioners, on the advice of the relevant premier, do still have the power to call a general election, as is traditional in Westminster-style parliamentary governments, at any point before the fixed date. By-elections, used to fill vacancies in a legislature, are also not affected by fixed election dates.

Federal[edit]

The Constitution Act, 1867, fixes the maximum life of a federal parliament at five years following the return of the writs of election.[1] Section Five of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides that there must be sittings of parliament and of each legislative assembly at least once in every twelve-month period. By constitutional convention, an election must be called by the governor general following the mandatory dissolution of parliament.

The 39th Canadian Parliament passed Bill C-16, An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act, which received Royal Assent on May 3, 2007.[2] It requires that each general election take place on the third Monday in October in the fourth calendar year after the previous poll, starting with October 19, 2009.[3][4][5] During the legislative process, the Liberal-dominated Senate added an amendment listing conditions under which an election date could be modified, in order to avoid clashes with religious holidays, municipal elections, and referenda, but the House of Commons, led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives, rejected the amendment and the Senate did not pursue it.[6]

When introducing the legislation, Harper stated that "fixed election dates prevent governments from calling snap elections for short-term political advantage. They level the playing field for all parties and the rules are clear for everybody." [7] However, despite the new legislation, the prime minister is still free to request an election at any time. As the Bill C-16 amendments to the Canada Elections Act clearly states "Nothing in this section affects the powers of the Governor General, including the power to dissolve Parliament at the Governor General's discretion", the change effectively altered only the maximum duration of a parliament by ensuring that it ends no later than October of the fourth calendar year after its commencement, while leaving the possibility of an earlier end unaffected.[4]

This situation was illustrated by the dissolution of parliament at Harper's request on September 7, 2008. This led Democracy Watch to initiate proceedings in federal court against the Crown-in-Council, the Prime Minister of Canada, and the Governor General of Canada, challenging the decision to call an election prior to the fixed election date. Judge Michel M.J. Shore dismissed the matter, saying the applicants who launched the suit "do not demonstrate a proper understanding of the separation of powers," since "[t]he remedy for the applicant's contention is not for the Federal Court to decide, but rather one of the count of the ballot box".[8] The court effectively found that the fixed election dates were not binding on the prime minister or legally enforceable by the courts.

With elections being held in October 2008 (after an early election call) and May 2011 (after a vote of non-confidence), no parliament has yet reached its maximum life. The election of a majority government in the May 2, 2011, general election makes it probable that the date of the next general election will be determined by the fixed-date section of the Canada Elections Act.[9][10][11] This would cause the next election to be on October 19, 2015.

Provincial[edit]

Alberta[edit]

The Legislative Assembly of Alberta, with the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta holding a majority, passed the 2011 Election Amendment Act on December 6, 2011.[12] It legislated that a general election would be held between March 1 and May 31, 2012, and in the same three-month period in the fourth calendar year thereafter.[13]

British Columbia[edit]

British Columbia was the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt fixed election dates, doing so in 2001. The Constitution Act called for an election on May 17, 2005, and the second Tuesday in May every four years afterwards.[14]

Manitoba[edit]

The Legislative Assembly of Manitoba passed acts in 2008 so as to stipulate that an election will be held on the first Tuesday in October in the fourth calendar year after election day;[15] the first was in October 2011. The act also includes a provision to move the election if, as of January 1 of the election year, the election period would otherwise overlap with a federal election period; the provincial election is to be postponed until the third Tuesday of the following April.[16]

New Brunswick[edit]

New Brunswick amended the Legislative Assembly Act in 2007, causing an election to be held every four years, on the fourth Monday in September, the first was September 2010.[17]

Newfoundland and Labrador[edit]

The Legislative Assembly of Newfoundland and Labrador, with a majority held by the Progressive Conservative Party headed by Danny Williams, passed legislation in 2004, fixing the date of elections in Newfoundland and Labrador. General elections in the province are required to be held on the second Tuesday in October every four years, the first fixed date election occurred on October 9, 2007. In the event that a premier leaves office while the legislature is summoned, the new premier is required to, within 12 months of being appointed, advise the lieutenant governor to call an election.[18]

Nova Scotia[edit]

Nova Scotia is the only province without fixed election date legislation.

Ontario[edit]

In Ontario, the legislature, with a majority held by Dalton McGuinty's Liberals, passed the Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005, which requires elections to be held on the first Thursday in October every four years, starting with 2007 (thus, in years that leave a remainder of 3 when divided by 4).[19] However, the law does allow the date to be moved forward to any of the following seven days in the case of religious or culturally significant holidays: the 2007 election was moved from October 4 to 10 to avoid the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret.[20] The snap election in 2014 moved the elections to years that leave a remainder of 2 when divided by 4.

Prince Edward Island[edit]

In 2007, Pat Binns' Progressive Conservatives (PCs) introduced a bill for fixed election dates, but an election was called before the bill could pass the legislature. Since the PCs had previously defeated a similar Liberal motion in 2006, Robert Ghiz, then leader of the opposition, said, "if they [the Progressive Conservatives] were concerned about accountability and fixed election dates they would have voted a year ago to have a fixed election date set for this election. They chose not to do that."[21] However, when the Liberal Party held a majority in the legislative assembly, an act was in 2008 passed to amend the election act, mandating an election would be held every four years on the first Monday in October.

Quebec[edit]

The Quebec legislature passed a bill which received Royal Assent on June 14, 2013, that establishes fixed election dates held on the first Monday in October of the fourth calendar year following the dissolution of the legislature.[22] It also includes a provision to move the election to the first Monday of April in the fifth year, if the election period overlaps with a federal or municipal election period.

Had the National Assembly not been dissolved earlier and the federal and municipal elections remained as scheduled, the first fixed date election would have been held on October 3, 2016. However, on March 5, 2014, just over 18 months after the previous election, the assembly was dissolved by Lieutenant Governor Pierre Duchesne at the request of Premier Pauline Marois, who headed a minority government.[23] This means that the first fixed date election is scheduled for Monday, October 1, 2018.

Saskatchewan[edit]

The Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan amended The Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act in 2007 so as to stipulate that an election will be held on the first Monday of November in the fourth calendar year following the previous election;[24] the first was in November 2011. The act also includes a provision to move the election if the election period would otherwise overlap with a federal election period; the provincial election is to be postponed until the first Monday of the following April.[25]

Territorial[edit]

Northwest Territories[edit]

The Northwest Territories' Elections and Plebiscite Act, 2007, requires elections on the first Monday in October every four years, starting with 2007. A strong motivation for this law was the practical difficulties of holding an election during the Arctic winter.[26]

Nunavut and Yukon[edit]

Nunavut and Yukon both do not have fixed election date legislation. However, the date for the last election in Nunavut, in 2013, was set almost a year prior.[27]

Next elections[edit]

Assuming that a government does not fall on a non-confidence vote and that the prime minister or premier does not request an early election, the fixed election date legislation requires the next election for each jurisdiction to be held on the following dates:

Jurisdiction Election date
Canada October 19, 2015
Alberta Between March 1 and May 31, 2016
British Columbia May 9, 2017
Manitoba October 6, 2015 or April 19, 2016
New Brunswick September 22, 2014
Newfoundland and Labrador Assembly expires January 24, 2015
Northwest Territories October 5, 2015
Nova Scotia Assembly expires October 18, 2018
Nunavut Legislature expires November 4, 2018
Ontario October 4, 2018
Prince Edward Island October 5, 2015
Quebec October 1, 2018
Saskatchewan November 2, 2015 or April 4, 2016
Yukon Legislature expires October 17, 2016

Italics indicates no fixed date legislation.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Victoria (1867). Constitution Act, 1867. IV.50. Westminster: Queen's Printer (published March 29, 1867). Retrieved January 15, 2009. 
  2. ^ "House Government Bill C-16: An Act to Amend the Canada Elections Act," Parliament of Canada, accessed 11 October 2003.
  3. ^ "Fixed election dates in Canada". Election Almanac. Retrieved May 19, 2008. 
  4. ^ a b Parliament of Canada (November 6, 2006). "Bill C-16, An Act to amend the Canada Elections Act". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved August 31, 2008. 
  5. ^ Elizabeth II (July 27, 2008). "Canada Elections Act". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved August 30, 2008. 
  6. ^ "Bill setting federal elections every 4 years about to become law". CBC. May 2, 2007. Retrieved May 19, 2008. 
  7. ^ "Harper promises law to set election date every four years". CBC. May 26, 2006. Retrieved September 19, 2014. 
  8. ^ Conacher v. Canada (Prime Minister), Federal Court of Canada, September 17, 2009, retrieved September 19, 2014 
  9. ^ Millar, Sarah (May 4, 2011), "Brace yourself: Back-to-back elections likely in 2015", Toronto Star, retrieved August 28, 2011 
  10. ^ Harris, Kathleen (August 18, 2011). "Federal election could overlap with at least two provincial votes". canada.com. Retrieved August 28, 2011. 
  11. ^ Ibbitson, John (June 2, 2011), "Tories to add more seats in Commons for Ontario, B.C., Alberta", The Globe and Mail, retrieved August 28, 2011 
  12. ^ "Bill 21: Election Amendment Act, 2011 (Olson)". The Legislative Assembly of Alberta. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  13. ^ "Bill 21, Election Amendment Act, 2011". The Legislative Assembly of Alberta. December 6, 2011. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  14. ^ "Facts on...Fixed Election Dates" (PDF). Commission on Legislative Democracy. Retrieved July 1, 2009. 
  15. ^ Elections Manitoba. "A Set Date for General Elections". Retrieved March 28, 2011. 
  16. ^ Elections Act, sec. 49.1(3).
  17. ^ Legislative Assembly of New Brunswick. "An Act to Amend the Legislative Assembly Act". Retrieved March 28, 2011. 
  18. ^ "Bill 40 An Act To Amend The House Of Assembly Act And The Elections Act, 1991". Government of Newfoundland and Labrador. Retrieved December 7, 2011. 
  19. ^ "Election Statute Law Amendment Act, 2005". Service Ontario e-laws. December 15, 2005. Retrieved May 19, 2008. 
  20. ^ "Ontario 'fixed' election date moved off Jewish holiday". CBC News. February 7, 2007. Retrieved May 19, 2008. 
  21. ^ "Opposition supports fixed election dates". CBC News. May 20, 2007. Retrieved May 19, 2008. 
  22. ^ "Bill n°3: An Act to amend the Election Act for the purpose of establishing fixed-date elections". National Assembly of Québec. Retrieved July 19, 2013. 
  23. ^ "Quebec Election 2014: Pauline Marois Sets Date For April 7". The Huffington Post. March 5, 2014. Retrieved March 5, 2014. 
  24. ^ Government of Saskatchewan (December 18, 2007). "Legislation Introduced To Set Fixed Election Dates". Retrieved March 28, 2011. 
  25. ^ "The Legislative Assembly and Executive Council Act, 2007". The Queen's Printer (Saskatchewan). 2012. Retrieved September 5, 2013. 
  26. ^ Lee, Donna (September 25, 2007). "Fixed election date in the N.W.T.: What does it mean, and why?". CBC News. Retrieved May 19, 2008. 
  27. ^ Nunavut Gazett. II 14 (11). November 13, 2013. p. 89. Retrieved September 18, 2013. 

External links[edit]